More than anything, a successful event requires its vendors to have a deep understanding of a client’s needs and preferences. Unfortunately, our clients are not always the most straightforward — in fact, sometimes they don’t even know what they want.
As seasoned industry experts, it is up to us to dig deep and ask the right questions to reveal what our clients are truly looking for. At times, we have to avoid taking their comments at face value because they simply don’t know what they really like. For example, a client may say they despised the whole design of their friend’s rustic wedding. However, with careful questioning, you may discover that they really hate burlap, yet love the look of raw wood.
It can take a little bit of detective work, but the effort spent digging into a client’s preferences is well worth it the moment their face lights up as they walk into their dream event.
I like to start every client relationship off with a questionnaire that gives me a better idea of their needs. At this point, we have not yet booked so I’m not rushing into details yet; instead, I want to make sure they’re a fit from the start. Design details can happen once the ink is dry. My intake form includes these questions:
How much time do you have to dedicate to planning this event?
There is a big difference between working with a medical student who hardly has time to eat and an unemployed fiancée who has been planning her wedding since she was four. I need to know how much hand-holding they will need throughout the process and whether they will be micro-managing the planning work that I provide.
What is your preferred method of communication?
This is an essential question, simply because it feeds into the client experience. I aim to meet every one of my clients halfway, so I seek out their preferred contact method in order to keep them as comfortable as possible. This also helps me to get answers quickly, which saves times and forms a bond that will lead to a five-star review.
How important are the following when making your final decision?
Creativity and artistry
Experience and reputation
I ask these three questions with a scale that ranges from very important to not important at all. The answers to these questions are very revealing; my ideal client cares a lot about creativity and artistry, but is not very concerned about pricing. If I see somebody has marked their budget as more important than artistry and creativity, I know that we aren’t going to be a good fit and I can select to decline the work. At the end of the day, I am giving away time with my family, so it’s important that I’m creating meaningful art that my client values which is one of the core values of my business.
When it comes down to it, if you’re not a good fit, the event won’t be as successful as you want it. Just as an event that features elements from a certain culture may need a caterer who is familiar with certain spices and seasonings, it’s essential for event hosts and their vendors to see eye-to-eye and share common values or else the resulting vision will not align.
What event elements or designs do you hate?
When you do find the right client and they’ve signed on for your services, I’ve found that it’s far easier to discuss design details that they don’t like. Most people can identify what they hate far more easily than they can narrow down what they truly love. Next time, instead of starting at their dream event, try to learn about their nightmare event — that way, you can avoid everything they mention and work backwards towards a vision that takes their breath away. This also helps to avoid duplicating the same event over and over based on the top Pinterest pictures that we see on a near-weekly basis.
Lastly, never stop asking questions. Let the design evolve as the planning process continues, and don’t be afraid to readjust accordingly. I recently called a client to let her know that a new collection of linens was available that were an even better fit than what we had already chosen — she jumped at the opportunity and now calls me her MVF, Most Valuable Florist.
Even when the contract is signed, a Pinterest board is shared, and you’re off to work on some gorgeous designs, don’t hesitate to touch bases to ask them about new features and ideas that may fit into their overall vision. The more questions you ask, the better you can hone in on that perfect style that will wow your client and knock their guests off their feet.
Katie Easley is the owner of Kate Ryan Design, a luxury floral and event design studio based in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is also a top sales consultant in the wedding industry, specializing in prospecting and client experience.